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Judge Roberts, Religion and Work

Raymond J. Keating

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Church and Society

Raymond J. KeatingJudge John G. Roberts Jr. has been called a "devout" Roman Catholic. That would not draw much attention except that Roberts, of course, is President George W. Bush's choice to fill the vacancy being left on the U.S. Supreme Court by the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

So, questions have sprung up in media and political circles about Roberts' ability to deal with issues before the court that overlap with church teachings. Can a faithful Christian do the job?

I wonder why this question suddenly has gained attention. We've long had Catholics on the federal bench, including three on the Supreme Court right now Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

However, a strong secular streak in our culture doesn't mind religious people, but it prefers that religion remain private. It's okay to go to church on Sunday, just leave all that God stuff in the pews.

Lots of people seem comfortable compartmentalizing this way. They attend church on Sunday, but during the week, God rarely enters into the equation and certainly not at work. How many times have we heard a liberal Catholic politician, for example, proclaim that he personally might agree with the Catholic Church's teachings on abortion, but can't impose his beliefs on others? (Of course, they don't mind imposing their views regarding other issues.)

This not only raises questions about governing and conscience, but also misses the role of work in the Christian life. St. Paul made clear the importance of work: "For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10) He also declared: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men..." (Colossians 3:23)

Many theologians have spoken of work as a calling or vocation over the centuries. In the 1500s, Martin Luther, for example, declared: "Your work is sacred." This was echoed more than 400 years later by the twentieth century writer Dorothy Sayers: "It is the business of the Church to recognize that the secular vocation, as such, is sacred. Christian people, and particularly perhaps the Christian clergy, must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is a true vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work."

Christians cannot divide their lives into neat separate spheres. Faith should affect one's entire life, including work as we recognize our talents and abilities as gifts from God. That doesn't mean one preaches at the water cooler, but it is important that we do our best to live, work and play according to the values of our faith as examples to the world.

And if our job calls for something Holy Scripture deems immoral, we need the courage to quit. Similarly, do we really want elected officials who abandon conscience when making laws and policies?

So, can faithful Christians be judges? Of course, especially when understanding that the proper role of a judge all the way up to thhe Supreme Court is to apply the law and the Constitution. There are laws that many, including judges, find morally bankrupt, but we still live under the law as we work for change through our elected representatives.

Judges get into trouble by embracing judicial activism, that is, inappropriately making law. One thinks of the Justice William J. Brennan, a Catholic, who played a key role in manufacturing the so-called constitutional right to abortion in the Roe v. Wade decision. He didn't do his job properly, and violated the moral teachings of the church.

Do the job right, and a devout Christian, including John Roberts, should not have any problem answering the call to sit on the Supreme Court.

Raymond J. Keating can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.

Posted: 04-Sep-05

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